This Art is nearly as antique as the world
By DAVIS, William , 1813

A complete treatise on land surveying by the chain, cross & offset staffs, in four parts. Also, a description of the plan and map meters. To which is added, a supplement, containing methods by the plane table & theodolite, and directions for conducting subterraneous surveys.

Natural History, Science & Medicine
  • Author: DAVIS, William
  • Publication place: London
  • Publisher: W. Mason, 21 Clerkenwell Green
  • Publication date: 1813.
  • Physical description: Octavo (212 by 134mm), [xx], [1]-393, nine engraved folding plates throughout, ink ownership inscription and library stamp to front endpaper, in contemporary half calf with marbled paper, spine in six compartments, title in one.
  • Inventory reference: 15256


The fifth edition of William’s Davis influential surveying book.

First published in 1798, Davis’ ‘Treatise on land surveying’ was written at a time of great change in the field of surveying. The Ordnance Survey had begun only seven years before, and there was increasing demand for property surveys from the emerging middle class. Despite this new flurry of interest, Davis maintains that “this Art is nearly as antique as the world” and claims that a knowledge of geometry and geography has been considered an essential attribute throughout history. A member of the Mathematical and Philosophical Society, and a biographer of Isaac Newton, Davis was well-equipped with the technical skills required to produce accurate plans. In this volume, he shares his knowledge of geometry and mapping, including both theoretical and practical information.

The work is split into four parts, beginning with practical geometry and trigonometry, accompanied with exercises, followed by an explanation of how to use a cross-staff to survey land. He goes on to outline the rules and directions for planning and mapping estates, and then issues further instructions on managing and measuring land features. Finally, he adds a supplement to this edition, which he believes constitutes a “considerable improvement” on the previous four editions of the book, in which he gives guidance on how to use a plane table and a theodolite. The work was a success, and David revelled in “the flattering reception and rapid sale which the former Editions of this Work have experienced”.

Despite its popularity, with numerous reprints, the book is rare. We have been able to trace four other examples of this edition held in institutions worldwide, and only one other on the market.